URBANDALE, Iowa—Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain sought to sharpen his grasp on national security and foreign policy while campaigning in Iowa Tuesday, a day after botching his answer to a question about his support for the U.S. role in Libya.
On his first trip to Iowa since decade-old sexual harassment allegations surfaced, Cain indirectly addressed the foreign policy problem by telling more than 200 people at a northeastern Iowa restaurant that the U.S. needed to leave no doubt about its allies and enemies.
"My overriding philosophy relative to national security and foreign policy is an extension of the Reagan philosophy. Peace through strength," Cain said earlier in Dubuque, surrounded by GOP activists and employees from nearby offices. "We need to clarify our relationship with friends and enemies around the world and make sure we stand with our friends."
Cain commented a day after he hesitated during an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board, first saying he disagreed with President Barack Obama's decision to back Libyan rebels, then adding that he likely would have done the same.
It was the latest in a series of bumps for the Georgia businessman who has risen sharply in national GOP polls despite the setbacks.
A Cain aide later blamed the episode on lack of sleep. But Cain told reporters Tuesday that the apparent reversal was the result of his own contemplative process.
"The Libya comment was a pause to gather my thoughts. I'm not going to back down from that," Cain told reporters. "Remember, if you were being asked seven, eight different questions on seven, eight different topics, and then all of a sudden someone switches to Libya, and they are not clear with the question, before I shoot from the lip, I gather my thoughts. That's all that was."
Cain, who has had success portraying himself as an outsider, has faced intense scrutiny in recent weeks. The most recent glitch prompted him to defend his grasp on foreign policy.
"I believe I have a good enough philosophy of foreign affairs and foreign policy," he told reporters. "Secondly, I also know how to talk to the right people. And that has allowed me to develop a better appreciation for the problems we have."
Cain returned to Iowa for just the second time in three months, and on the heels of a particularly rocky stretch that began with questions about his loyalty to opposing abortion rights -- a problem for influential evangelicals in Iowa.
But that issue was quickly eclipsed by the harassment allegations involving former subordinates when he headed the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
Four women say Cain harassed them. He denies the allegations.
Jim Budde, a Republican from nearby Bellevue, said he was leaning toward supporting Cain, but thought Cain took too long to address the harassment charges.
"Politics is a cutthroat business and you've got to address it head-on, and I think he was late on the draw," Budde said. "I think it still hangs over his head."
Cain appeared upbeat on his return to this early voting state. He waded into the audience with a hearty "Good Morning" and complimented their political acumen.
"The state of Iowa is going to set the tone for this upcoming primary season. Why? Because you are informed. You are inspired, to send the message to the rest of the country about what we need to do," Cain said, drawing polite applause.
Cain remains a front-runner in Iowa, which holds its caucuses on Jan. 3, despite his stumbles and sparse campaigning here.
A new Bloomberg News poll of Iowa Republicans showed him clinging to a narrow lead in the state, with Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich closely bunched at the top.
Cain also had a narrow lead in The Des Moines Register's poll taken in late-October poll, before the harassment allegations became public.